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Power Moves: Business leader Aliquippa Allen prepares entrepreneurs for success in Alabama’s Black Belt

During her 28 years serving in the U.S. Air Force, Aliquippa Allen lived in and around rural communities where businesses, such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, clubs and recreation centers, closed their doors forever. It was during that time she recognized the importance of investing in small towns and helping them create a sustainable economy. In July 2020, she founded the Rural Business and Training Center (RBTC) in Demopolis to accomplish that goal.

“The RBTC’s objectives are to identify and train aspiring entrepreneurs willing to invest in their communities by starting new businesses and repurposing existing structures needed to build a sustainable economy,” said Allen. “[So far] 50 individuals have participated in our CO.STARTERS’ Get Started Workshop program, with graduates starting four new businesses since completion.”

Power Moves: Aliquippa Allen from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

With participants hailing from Hale, Marengo and Perry counties, Allen said the RBTC is prepared to expand to reach more business-minded people across the Black Belt. Knowing how tight-knit these communities are, Allen also seeks to make connections through the RBTC in addition to offering training programs. The center collaborates with 15 local entrepreneurs who share their challenges and successes during each cohort.

Though the RBTC is specifically geared toward businesses in the Black Belt, Allen believes in the importance of empowering entrepreneurs in rural communities across Alabama to build a more economically sustainable region.

“Every rural town in Alabama will not land a mega-industry for several valid reasons, but this does not mean towns and cities should roll up the sidewalks and board up their windows and doors,” said Allen. “Organizations like the RBTC offer programs to empower aspiring entrepreneurs and help them build confidence to start or operate their existing businesses more efficiently.”

Since starting her nonprofit, Allen has seen a shift in the way people work and grow economically through a pandemic and beyond. Allen believes this shift showcases the potential that exists in small towns for success and how impactful rural entrepreneurs can be on the business community and in municipalities across Alabama and beyond.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, we now realize that people can work from anywhere,” said Allen. “Natives are returning to their hometowns with business ideas and capital to infuse into local economies. A positive change in the existing business ecosystem in rural communities will provide more employment opportunities and revitalization of towns and cities while contributing to the community and economic development.”

Looking back on her success, Allen attributes her core values to what she learned in the Air Force. She believes true change occurs only when people with integrity work hard and do not wait for change to happen. As for the future in the Black Belt, Allen is optimistic.

“I desire to leave a legacy of hope and inspiration within the once-thriving Black Belt communities. Since the Great Migration, we have steadily seen an outflux of some very prominent people who have done some extraordinary things in this world. Today, the same type of talent still resides in our communities. I pray programs offered by the RBTC inspire, empower, educate and provide access to much-needed resources and knowledge.”